The new 2017 Volkswagen Golf R is a hell of a car, and we because of that, we awarded it one of our coveted All Stars spots this year. Its slick AWD system, sticky tires, great suspension, and excellent chassis tuning convinced me to buy one for my personal fleet and had the rest of our crew head over heels.
As for the 2016 Subaru WRX STI, I had driven one before and was left unimpressed. It felt too much like a normal passenger car despite the horsepower and giant rear wing. It also didn’t feel as buttoned up as the Golf R or as sorted as previous STIs. However, that feeling didn’t return after a fresh week in the driver’s Recaro.
One for Alpine Highways
The Golf R’s nature is very Teutonic; everything has a reason. Turn the wheel and you’re met with immediate and urgent turn-in response. Shifts from the DCT are blistering, body roll almost undetectable. This car is fixed to the road as if it were set in stone and will have you turning faster and faster laps in a relatively short time.
I’ve spent the last year and a half evaluating my Golf R, putting in plenty of time on local canyon roads. Whenever I get behind the wheel, I feel at one with the car, a feeling helped along by the car’s near perfect seating position and sublime sport steering wheel. Though the numbers tell a different story, the Golf R’s nature makes it feel tighter, faster, and more proficient on the street.
And One for the Rally Stage
Whereas the Volkswagen is a digital road-racing attack dog, the Subaru’s character is purely analog. Instead of being bred as a pure tarmac car, Subaru’s STI is rooted in the company’s rally heritage. You accept that it’s not going to behave like the surefooted Golf R, grab the car by the scruff, and chuck it into a corner
Manual shifts are crisp, steering is precise, and the tachometer will run to 7,000 rpm. It’s an unruly car, one that shouldn’t be driven hard by the inexperienced. It is completely opposite of the character of the Golf R, which is exactly what makes it great.
The Subaru’s suspension feels properly old-fashioned. Even on super sticky Dunlop Sport MAXX tires, the STI groans under hard gravitational forces. Don’t be fooled by this apparent complaining, this WRX is still hugely impressive on asphalt, it just begs for a different challenge, one involving less traction.
There’s one particular canyon road near my house I don’t normally test on. It leads from the base of a mountain to a peak where a fire rescue unit is stationed. There isn’t much traffic and as such, the roads aren’t as well maintained. Gravel and debris litter the road as the mountain consistently calves off portions of its face. Further aiding in the road’s rally-esque nature, it features cliffs that drop between 2,000 and 5,000 feet. It was the only location that made sense to stretch the Subaru’s legs.
On that pockmarked and pitted mountain road, with sporadic layers of rock, sand and debris, the STI came into its element. The all-wheel drive clawed at the grit-strewn pavement, hunting for grip. The Subaru’s higher ride height made easy work of the road as the suspension loaded up predictably every time. Here, the car’s true character came alive.
Road vs. Rally
Subaru didn’t build a Golf R competitor. Subaru built what it knows how to build: a street-legal rally car. The companies built cars that played to their strengths. Thus, while the two manufacturers built two cars aimed at the same audience that appear similar after a cursory glance, they become unsurprisingly different when you get into the details.
Subaru’s WRX STI is a brilliant and competent car. It’s superbly quick in acceleration, agile when thrown into a corner, but it’s not a road racing competitor to Volkswagen’s Golf R as everyone believes. Whereas the Golf R loves smooth tarmac, the Subaru begs for a looser surface.
2015 Volkswagen Golf R Specifications
|Engine:||2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4/292 hp @ 5,400 rpm, 280 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|Transmission:||6-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback|
|EPA Mileage:||23/30 mpg (city/highway)|
|L x W x H:||168.4 x 70.8 x 56.5|
|0-60 MPH:||4.5 sec|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|
2016 Subaru WRX STI Series.HyperBlue
|Engine:||2.5L DOHC 16-valve H-4/305 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 290 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||19/28 mpg (city/highway)|
|L x W x H:||180.9 x 70.7 x 58.1|
|0-60 MPH:||4.7 sec|
|Top Speed:||159 mph|